a fork in the road for wikipedia 09.19.2006, 1:50 PM
posted by ben vershbow
Estranged Wikipedia cofounder Larry Sanger has long argued for a more privileged place for experts in the Wikipedia community. Now his dream may finally be realized. A few days ago, he announced a new encyclopedia project that will begin as a "progressive fork" off of the current Wikipedia. Under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, anyone is free to reproduce and alter content from Wikipedia on an independent site as long as the new version is made available under those same terms. Like its antecedent, the new Citizendium, or "Citizens' Compendium", will rely on volunteers to write and develop articles, but under the direction of self-nominated expert subject editors. Sanger, who currently is in the process of recruiting startup editors and assembling an advisory board, says a beta of the site should be up by the end of the month.
We want the wiki project to be as self-managing as possible. We do not want editors to be selected by a committee, which process is too open to abuse and politics in a radically open and global project like this one is. Instead, we will be posting a list of credentials suitable for editorship. (We have not constructed this list yet, but we will post a draft in the next few weeks. A Ph.D. will be neither necessary nor sufficient for editorship.) Contributors may then look at the list and make the judgment themselves whether, essentially, their CVs qualify them as editors. They may then go to the wiki, place a link to their CV on their user page, and declare themselves to be editors. Since this declaration must be made publicly on the wiki, and credentials must be verifiable online via links on user pages, it will be very easy for the community to spot false claims to editorship.
We will also no doubt need a process where people who do not have the credentials are allowed to become editors, and where (in unusual cases) people who have the credentials are removed as editors. (link)
Initially, this process will be coordinated by "an ad hoc committee of interim chief subject editors." Eventually, more permanent subject editors will be selected through some as yet to be determined process.
Another big departure from Wikipedia: all authors and editors must be registered under their real name.
Eddie A. Tejeda on October 1, 2006 8:59 PM:
I wrote about forks a while back, in response to Nicholas Carr's frustrating article which claimed that Wikipedia, as an idea, is dead because of the policies enacted to protect against vandalism.
Quote: "While the Wikipedia brand and domain belong to Jimmy Wales and his foundation, our freedoms are protected by something larger. Wikipedia's content is released under GNU Free Documentation License. [...] Wikipedia, as a vision, is here to stay, wether Jimmy Wales is running it or not. This is inherent in the license in which Wikipedia is released under. Both the MediaWiki (the actual Wiki application) and the contents of the website are released under GPL. This means that at any point if the public becomes dissatisfied with Wikipedia's leadership, a new group of people can simply move everything over to a new domain name and brand."
I think that Citizendium will eventually demonstrate why Wikipedia's openness works best for horizontal knowledge and infinitely broad topics. Citizendium could work if it was focused on a few topics, like rows of textbooks on topics for which high level degrees are good to have, like history, philosophy or the sciences. While these topics are covered in Wikipedia, and would definitely benefit for scholarly input, Wikipedia greatest asset is that one can switch from reading about the Tsukiji's fish market to LonelyGirl15, without missing a beat.
Wikipedia is a general source of information, I do not think it's meant to replace years of reading many source on complex issues. If anything, Wikipedia has raised awareness on "trust" when it comes to any Encyclopedia. I prefer a culture that questions the source of the contents they read than one that does not because of an assumption of that "authorities" tell the truth.
Lenoxus on December 22, 2007 8:12 PM:
Hear, hear! Whenever someone says "Don't ever use Wikipedia for research," I think they're forgetting that everyone knows the article one is looking at could have been maliciously changed in the last two minutes, and we all tend to counter this by being a bit guarded in reading it. A bit like risk homeostasis (look it up you-know-where...)
If only we had a similar mechanism when listening to gossip and the like... when you hear an urban legend from a close friend and you don't already know it's false, it's not too unlikely you'd believe it because, hey, why would your friend lie? (Of course, they don't have to lie to spread incorrect information, but for some reason this isn't intuitive, and we associate the value of people's truth statements with the value of people themsleves, our want for the latter beating out the former.) Whereas if you see it on Wikipedia, the equivalent to your friend is some random IP, and you're going to be a lot more guarded.
In particular, you get in the habit of recognizing the sort of weasel phrases people use to insert their own biases, and the sort of phrases that best capture likely (but not guarenteed) facts. So if I say, "I use Wikipedia," I get irritated when someone interprets that to mean "I trust absolutely everything I read there." Instead, it's sort of like the scientific method -- gleaning larger truths from the accumulation of half-falsehoods, rather than assuming that the text is some kind of Scripture, magically clean of error.
Oh, and of course an article should never be cited for an essay or such -- that's just stupid.